A lucerne tree is a tree!

Recently, an interested client asked me if a lucerne tree is actually a tree, and I assured her that it is a tree.  Read all our Lucerne Tree information.

Tree— a woody perennial plant, typically having a single stem or trunk growing to a considerable height and bearing lateral branches at some distance from the ground.

Trees
Our son Zahn is very tall.  These young trees already tower above him.

Lucerne trees are soft, woody trees that grow to about 6m tall within 4 years.  Their stems and branches become dense and thick wood, but still remain soft and nutritious so that when chipped, form an excellent source of nutrients and fiber.

2-20140809_171204 18month 30 days after pruning

These trees need to be pruned to develop their shape and form as well as to promote dense leafy branches which carry loads of food. Above is an excellent example of how to prune a young 18-month tree.  All these new leaves were stimulated by pruning and the foliage emerged just 30 days after pruning.

Left un-pruned, they often remain spindly and straggly.  Their carrying capacity is severely undermined and their full potential is never reached.  Often they are damaged, branches torn or broken when sheep or cattle pull at leaves on the branches while grazing.  Pruned trees become resilient and withstand browsing well.

We leave bottom branches in our trees so that food is available right down the grass level, but as trees mature, they develop more exposed stems.  Stems of mature trees can span more than 50cm.

We have found that dead lucerne trees’ wood makes excellent fire wood and the thin, stripped branches make a phenomenal kindling or fire-starter.

Plant lucerne trees!  A lucerne tree is an invaluable asset, living and growing food for years and years!

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Limited Late Summer Stocks

We are entering early winter here in South Africa, and the last of our late summer lucerne trees in  their individual bags will soon need to be planted out.

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Because lucerne trees have very vigorous root growth, they will soon be limited by the size of their potting bags.  Pot-bound trees just never do well  when eventually planted out, often remaining slow and spindly instead of budding and flourishing.12 c

We normally plant out any of our remaining lucerne tree stock on our farm or we are forced to compost excess saplings that have stood too long in their bags.  Please order now to avoid disappointment.

Late this summer we started germinating lucerne tree seeds which have all come up.  P1150188We will transplant these into individual potting bags to grow out in the nursery during winter.  Although growth slows dramatically in the cold season, these little seedlings will be well on their way to grow into saplings come early spring.

We have had several deposits for large orders of lucerne trees which we will hold in reserve and nurture in our nursery until September and late spring before we courier them to clients across South Africa.  This gives you, the client time to prepare your lands and fence in your fields or camps where the trees will be planted.

Most tree losses are from insufficient protection from both wild and domestic animals who snack the tender saplings in an evening of foraging, so putting up fences is a very important part of your tree management.  Remember to approach planting lucerne trees as if you are planting out a fruit orchard.  Management is the key to success.

Now is the perfect time to try your hand at germinating your own seeds.  If you follow our tried and tested methods which come with your seed packs, you will enjoy the thrill of growing out your own trees.  These little seeds will need a warm spot to germinate and then a sheltered place to grow in their bags.

Order your seeds and trees now!

Life is in the Seed!

Hand-strip Lucerne Trees For Feed

Here’s an amazing example of lucerne trees in our permaculture farming practice ~

I hand-milk our Jersey cow Milly and feed her a bucket full of lush grasses, clovers and lucerne tree cuttings while I milk.  Previously we shared how we use chipped lucerne trees for our milking, but there are times when we simply strip leaves directly off our lucerne trees instead.

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Myles stripping the leaves off the lucerne tree branches.  Notice the bare branches above. 

We have a few lucerne trees planted as a windbreak along a garden fence and the grasses beneath these trees are always lush and green and fast-growing.  This is were I quickly fill a bucket of feed.

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Notice the lovely, long, lush grass growing under the lucerne tree

I prune and cut off all the lower lucerne tree branches.  The softer, young tender branches go straight into the feed bucket, but I hand-strip the tougher branches which the cow will not be able to easily eat, sliding my hand down each branch, stripping off all the leaves in one slide and quickly dropping the leaves into the bucket.  Stripping the branches does cause the branches to be bare, but, like with pruning, this stimulates the tree which then buds with new leaves within a month.

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Our milk cow’s feed trough filled with grass, clover and lucerne tree leaves and cuttings

My chickens also get their share of lucerne tree cuttings.  They quickly nibble all the grass and lucerne tree leaves I throw down for them while they are still in the cowshed area before I let them out to forage in the fruit orchard during the day.

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Chickens rushing to feed on lucerne tree leaves

This tiny garden area with just three 5-year-old lucerne trees provides us with year-round food for our cow while milking!  The lush grass beneath the trees is evidence of the amazing benefits of lucerne trees’ nitrogen-fixing properties as well as providing shade and keeping moisture in the soil and grass roots.

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So, with milking done, I walk our cow and her calf down to their field to graze for the day.

20190509_102310We love our lucerne trees in the permaculture application!

Order and plant your lucerne trees today!

Prune trees when stressed

Lucerne trees love to be pruned and pruning is a vital management strategy!  Notice the wonderful dense, green bushy trees already pruned on the left, while the trees on the right are waiting to be pruned.

2-20140809_161544 compare pruned unprunedWhen lucerne trees are pruned, they burst into hundreds of new leaves all along the stems and branches.  This forces the sapling to develop side branches and new leaves all along their stems and branches which creates a lovely full, bushy tree.  If you look closely at the photo below, you will notice that several new branches have formed around the very short pruned stub of an old branch.  By pruning one branch, this tree now will have 5 to 6 new branches!P1120586If left un-pruned, lucerne trees remain thin and spindly, growing into tall, but lanky trees with very little food available for grazing.  Their branches tear and break easily when grazed.  A pruned tree develops thick, sturdy stems and branches which do not break as the animals browse the leaves off the branches.

Prune your trees while their are still in their potting bags growing out to become 40cm tall.  Simply nip the top growth tips off each sapling with your finger nails or use a hedge clipper for quicker pruning.  Within a week or two, you will notice tiny leaves budding and forming all along their stems.  These little saplings in their bags as seen in the photo below are ready for a light tip-pruning.P1150189Once transplanted, give your trees a few weeks to settle in and become established and then nip off all their growth tips and water well.  

If your trees undergo any kind of stress, you may notice that their leaves may turn yellow and  they may loose some of their leaves.  Prune them quite well, taking off up to a third of the top of the tree and then rectify what might be causing the stress. This tree in the photo below was pruned just 30 days before!2-20140809_171204 18month 30 days after pruning

Stress usually this has something to do with their roots or a water problem.  Remember that lucerne trees hate to sit in wet, soggy soil, so don’t over-water!  Likewise, drought will cause stress, so water your young trees regularly.

Stress may be caused by a lack of phosphates which works together with the rhizobia in the roots to fix nitrogen. A lack of phosphates may delay the trees’ roots from forming the nitrogen-fixing nodules which help the trees to become vital and healthy.  Add half a cup of super phosphates mixed in the soil around the base of the stem and water regularly. 

Insects could also cause damage and stress,  Look for signs of snails, beetles or worms that may be nibbling your trees and deal with them as necessary. Mice may also cause stress and ring-bark at the base of the stems,  This will usually cause the tree to die if they have eaten all the way around the bark.  Place old irrigation pipes around your saplings if this is happening, and cut away and clear any long grasses and weeds around each tree where mice may find shelter.

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By pruning off spindly, weak or failing branches, your trees have a far better chance of making a good recovery.  Instead of pushing all their energy into stressed areas of the trees, they consolidate all their nutrition, food, water and energy into the main part of the tree, causing health and recovery.

To force your trees to create more foliage you automatically create more food.  Pruning is a valuable resource as all the cuttings go into our chipper and yield amazing bulk, fibre and nutrition in the chipped food.  Remember that your trees should be maintained at about 1 metre to 1.5 metre height so that your animals can graze everything at their height.

A healthy lucerne tree can’t help itself — it loves being pruned and will always sprout and bud soon after pruning. 

Happy Farming!

Permaculture benefits of lucerne trees

Lucerne trees are a wonderful element in a permaculture setting.

permaculture — noun   ~ the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient. e.g: “His forest garden is one of Britain’s best models of permaculture”

We have established several around our fruit and vegetable gardens and fruit forest area.    As nitrogen-fixing trees, they provide wonderful nutrients to neighbouring plants.  Lucerne trees always thrive when planted as companion plants!

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Here are several other benefits of lucerne trees:

They are —

  • P1140783Fast growing, reaching up to 6m tall within 4 years if left un-pruned.
  • Make excellent wind breaks.  Planted around fruit orchards to provide nitrogen while they protect flowers and young fruit.
  • Provide some shade to prevent water evaporation beneath the canopy.
  • Bring moisture up through to the soil surface with their excellent deep tap-root and strong side roots.
  • Fix nitrogen and are the “givers” feeding other plants, shrubs and trees.
  • Flower prolifically end of winter providing bees with several months of nectar.
  • Can be pruned to create hedges.
  • Provide shelter to more sensitive plants when planted beneath and between the trees.
  • Provide year-round nutritious green food for birds, chickens, rabbits, as well as grazing animals.  We use our lucerne tree cuttings for our free range chickens and our milk cow during our hand-milking sessions.
  • Chipped lucerne provides high yields of wet, fibre-rich food
  • Dried chipped lucerne can be stored as quick, available to mix as a wonderful finishing food
  • Beautiful, soft-branched trees for landscaping, providing excellent privacy in gardens.
  • Soft-wooded and tender, especially when young making them delicious, but are quite hardy to frost and cold once established.

Read all the benefits and wonders of lucerne trees on our information page.

There are so many essential benefits to planting lucerne trees in a permaculture garden!  Order your seeds and trees today.

Happy farming!

Video – Planting bare-rooted lucerne trees

YouTube video planting bare-rooted treesWe have just uploaded our latest YouTube video showing you exactly how to plant out bare-rooted lucerne trees. Please pop over to YouTube to watch.

We courier young bare-rooted lucerne trees with overnight express service to main centres.  Bare-rooted trees can survive so long as the roots are not dried out. These bare-rooted trees’ roots are covered with some moist soil and then wrapped in wet paper towels, paper and plastic to keep the exposed roots covered and moist.  It is vital that you immediately plant out your newly collected trees so clients will need to have their holes prepared before the delivery is sent.

Recently a reader wrote and asked us for very specific planting instructions.  She said she needed  “a “planting guide for ‘Dummies‘”!

Well, our website is a Dummies guide to all things related to Lucerne trees!  We cover every aspect of lucerne tree information, their seeds, germination, transplanting,  potting out, protecting, pruning, irrigation, chipping and feeding methods.  We generously share all our tried and tested methods and expertise!  Browse our website using the tabs under the header to find all this information.

Hope that our video will help you in your lucerne tree farming!

Lucerne trees’ nitrogen-fixing nodules

Here are the nitrogen-fixing nodules on the roots of our young saplings.  These rhizobia nodules develop on young lucerne trees’ roots once they are potted into the soil or planted in your lands. 

“Rhizobia is the group of soil bacteria found in the soil that infect the roots of legumes to form root nodules where they fix nitrogen gas (N2) from the atmosphere turning it into a more readily useful form of nitrogen. Rhizobia live in a symbiotic relationship with legumes.  From here, the nitrogen is exported from the nodules and used for growth in the legume.” Wikipedia

This glorious tree, as well as all other legumes such as clover, alfalfa, beans, peas, and soybeans, develop rhizobia nodules on their roots which feed themselves, your soils and their neighboring plants with nitrogen! This means that your lucerne tree provides its own fertilizer and shares this with nearby plants, making it an incredible, full-time, fertilizer-producing companion plant to your fruit trees and vegetable gardens – a permaculture wonder plant!

Many poor farmers do not have access to fertilizers, so the sustainability of rhizobial inoculum is an important aspect in saving money. Other crops planted after a legume are healthier and higher yielding, so planting food forests, vegetables and fruits near or under lucerne trees will automatically receive this wonderful “free” fertilizer.

Because our seeds and saplings come from soils that already have this bacteria, our trees do not require an inoculant. However, if you prefer to inoculate your seeds we recommend the Groundnut & Cowpea Group Inoculant which contains Bradyrhyzobium sp. (Vigna) bacteria, a bacterial legume inoculant. We do not supply inoculant, but you can order a packet from your local agricultural supplier. Once your trees establish rhizobia, they will automatically ‘infect’ your soils with this bacteria and your trees and their seeds will not require any additional inoculant.

Do NOT add any nitrogen-rich fertilizer or manure when you plant your young trees. This added nitrogen will prevent your saplings’ roots from developing and forming their rhizobia nodules and nitrogen can actually burn their sensitive feeder roots at this stage. By all means, add manure or fertilizer to established 2-year-old trees, but never add nitrogen.

We do add about 50g of rock phosphorous in each hole when we plant out our young trees.  Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for plants and animals and is mostly found on land in rocks and soil minerals and phosphorous works with plants in the nitrogen cycle. Higher nitrogen levels will help to make more phosphorus (and other minerals) available for the plants, but by making sure there is available phosphorus at the beginning it will speed up the whole process. With time and larger sized plants, and with mycorrhiza fungi inoculation and efficient nitrogen fixation, your lucerne trees will be able to make phosphorus that’s already in the soil available. You can read more here – permaculturenews.org.  We always add a generous amount of compost into our holes when we plant out our trees.

Lucerne trees are a wonderful tree in so many ways and on so many levels!

Order your seeds today!

Happy farming!